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Sen. Chris Van Hollen On ZTE Sanctions


President Trump is facing some backlash on Capitol Hill over his potential trade deal with China. Democrats and Republicans don't seem to like the way that the president is negotiating with China, in particular the suggestion that he would ease sanctions on this particular Chinese corporation ZTE. Those sanctions were put in place by the U.S. Commerce Department because the company violated rules about doing business with Iran and North Korea. Yesterday, the Senate banking committee voted to limit the president's ability to give relief to ZTE. Democrat Chris Van Hollen of Maryland sits on the Senate banking committee, and he joins me now. Senator, thanks for being with us.

CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Rachel, great to be with you.

MARTIN: Why do this? Why do you want to limit the president's negotiating power in this moment?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, there was strong bipartisan support in the Senate just last month when the secretary of commerce imposed major penalties on ZTE not only for repeatedly violating U.S. sanctions but then for repeatedly lying about it. So everyone was surprised when President Trump tweeted out a few weeks ago that he wanted to help ZTE and save Chinese jobs. And the big concern was that the president was trading away U.S. national security interests to try to cut some other deal on some other issue with China, and that produced a strong bipartisan response. And so yesterday, the banking committee - by a vote of 23 to 2, we passed an amendment saying that the president cannot unilaterally undo these sanctions - that he has to certify to Congress that ZTE - in this case - has complied with U.S. law for over a year and is cooperating with the United States. A strong response to say you just can't go zigzagging around and playing with national security.

MARTIN: The president said yesterday there's not yet any deal - that this is still, you know, all in the works. He also says his administration has a path out that doesn't let ZTE totally off the hook. Let's listen to this.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I envision a very large fine. I envision, perhaps, new management, new board of directors, very tight security rules, but we caught them doing bad things. We caught them - not anybody else. We caught them doing bad things, and we essentially made it so difficult that it was shut down.

MARTIN: Because, we should note, it was his Commerce Department that imposed these fines on ZTE. So why isn't - what the president is articulating there - why doesn't that satisfy you?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, because we'd already planned to impose all these fines. I mean, part of the penalty ZTE was supposed to pay included over a billion dollars. What the president is not saying in that statement is that he's planning to undo the penalties that the Department of Commerce just imposed last month which would restrict exports to ZTE, which, by the way, is a Chinese telecom company that - we've had testimony from lots of administration officials and other experts - that they are working to try to penetrate U.S., you know, telecommunications networks. Everyone from the director of the FBI to the former head of NSA has said that this is a real risk to the United States. So why in the world we would be allowing them to move forward with these components and undermine U.S. national security is what's puzzling people. And the other thing, Rachel, is this is the administration that says, you know, we've got to impose tough sanctions on North Korea. And yet, it's sending a signal to anybody around the world who's violating United States - U.S. sanctions, hey, if you violate them - you get caught - you're going to be able to cut a deal with the president of the United States. That is no way to do business.

MARTIN: Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat from Maryland. Thank you, Senator.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.